“(Don’t) Save the Body”: A Response to John MacArthur’s Head of Counseling

I enjoy irony when it’s in the context of literature.

When it’s in the context of a Bible teacher who seems to be completely oblivious about the contradictions of his statements, it makes me feel like I need to practice my breathing techniques.

Apparently, according to professor John Street, head of counseling at John MacArthur’s Masters College and Seminary, counselors who do not follow the Jay-Adams style of nouthetic counseling (now labelled “Biblical counseling”) want only to “save the body” of an abused wife. Here is the quote:

We don’t agree [with Minirth-Meier, the “integrationist” counselors] that the primary goal of the counselor in working in an abuse situation is to make personal escape and protection the essential object of their counsel.

In this case there is virtually no difference between the integrationist counselor and the secular counselor. Both have the same goal, saving the body.

John Street, Master's Seminary professor, teaching about how to counsel an abuse victim
John Street, Master’s Seminary professor, teaching how to counsel an abuse victim who is in danger

He then goes on to denigrate this idea of “saving the body,” as if the body is somehow disconnected from the soul and spirit. As if that’s all counselors want to do. (I have never heard of such.)

He says that if that were to be our goal, then all missionaries in dangerous countries should get pulled out, and we should do everything we can to help national Christians in hostile countries escape.

Hmmm . . .

Missionaries and national Christians have been doing that very thing throughout the decades and centuries. Many times mission boards have told their missionaries to evacuate a country when it became too dangerous, in hopes that they could return when the volatile situation settled down.

And of course Christians in hostile countries have hidden and even escaped their countries in order to stay alive (“saving their bodies”). Through the decades and centuries this has been taking place–the stories of miraculous hiding and miraculous escapes abound.

Yes, there are martyrs, those who give up their lives on the mission field or in their native land because of their testimony of Christ. Yes, that happens, and these people are to be honored for their sacrifice.

But if they have the opportunity to escape, are we saying that they should not? That goes against both history (so many examples!) and the Bible.

And here is where the irony comes in.

John Street goes on to quote the psalmist David, who said in Psalm 119:71 for example, “It is good for me that I was afflicted that I may learn your statutes.”

What affliction could David possibly have been talking about here?

Oh yes, the maniacal king, King Saul, was chasing him to kill him for no good reason, and David was escaping. He was running and hiding, mostly in caves, in order to “save his body.” (I would observe that he was saving the rest of him too.)

Trying to keep oneself safe from a maniacal abuser can be a terrifying experience. It sure would be nice to have help with it. David trusted God to preserve him (since God had already promised he would be king), but he also had help from others, including, ironically, even Saul’s own son, Jonathan.

But in the modern-day Jay-Adams-style “Biblical counseling” world, a Christian woman and her children would not have any help to escape and stay safe, because that would only be “saving the body.”

I often wonder about the hard-heartedness of these counselors. If John Street himself were locked in a house with a dangerous person, would he figure he should stay there because he wants “to be God’s kind of person even in the midst of [his] trial”? Would he believe that no one should help him escape because that would be the worldly, secular approach of simply saving his body?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I do think that if these counselors were in such a situation, if their hearts aren’t hardened beyond hope, the empathy that experience would develop would help them become people of greater compassion.

In the meantime, I pray that there will be many Christians of greater compassion who will be willing to help the women and children whose lives are in danger, and then be able to tell them—as Christian nationals who escape their hostile countries have crystal clear in their thinking:

I have good news for you. The real God is not like that.

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Lyn Cogswell
Lyn Cogswell
5 months ago

Rebecca, bless you for your articulate, measured response to this ridiculously harmful, dangerous dribble that passes for counseling advice in some Christian circles. I was literally shaking after reading the Roys Report about Street’s so-called teaching. We must not only continue to vigorously refute such ungodly, un-Christlike “counsel,” we who counsel the survivors will continue to validate, educate, and participate with our compassionate Lord in the holistic healing of body, mind, and spirit. I deeply appreciate you and your ministry!

brian bailey
brian bailey
5 months ago

First of all, Jay Adams type ‘counseling’ totally denies the idea of mental health science and common grace. Advising a person to stay in an emotionally and physically abuse relationship is lunacy. I wonder in such situations, where the wife, or husband (husbands do get abused) is abused, if the abuser is confronted with their abuse, held accountable, or if it is simply ignored. Patriarchy at the worst, all too often. In the case of abusive husbands, is it not the height of hypocrisy to demand the wife stay, and submit, if the husband is not charged with a failure to love his wife? What is also ignored with this advice is the damage to any children. I have seen too many children wounded by the abuse they witnessed, who would rather have had a peaceful environment with one parent, than conflict with two. I am just shaking my head. Marriage, whether a true marriage or not, is an idol in certain Christian circles. There are far worse fates than being divorced. Divorce is an option that must be kept open when necessary, if we are to be at all realistic about the world that we live in.

Last edited 5 months ago by brian bailey
Margaret
Margaret
5 months ago

Very frightening.

Cindy Burrell
5 months ago

Wow. After reading this, I felt ill. That any “Christian” counselor would teach such nonsense is (almost) unbelievable. I wonder if he also believes that Jesus should have subjected Himself to the will of the angry mob that wanted to throw Him off a cliff – and Jesus escaped? So… I guess Jesus was wrong to remove Himself and find safety?

Jesus only subjected Himself to cruelty one time – when it was for a higher, eternal purpose, not to subject Himself to the will of wicked men.

How our Lord must cringe at the things this man professes. I know I do.

Thank you for exposing this insanity.

BEV STERK
BEV STERK
5 months ago

thanks for continuing to expose this type of toxic thinking that is harmful especially to those in abusive/violent situations… it’s not just ironic, it is physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally harmful & toxic as a willfull blindness is perpetuated…

to stay or leave is a choice to be discerned with the help of the Holy Spirit by each person in their specific situation… it’s not a cookie cutter, one size fits all decision… the choice is made based on each person’s unique dynamics & calling…

FYI in case you haven’t watched this already!
Margaret Heffernan: The dangers of willful blindness | TED Talk

KeyTruths
5 months ago
Reply to  BEV STERK

I’m so glad you mentioned Margaret Heffernan’s TED Talk on willful blindness. It’s wonderful – as is her book on the same subject.

HealingInHim
HealingInHim
5 months ago
Reply to  BEV STERK

Thank you for the link to Margaret Heffernan. Listening to several of her talks. Very wise and thoughtful presentations.

Sally Wickland
Sally Wickland
5 months ago

J. Street denigrates the idea of “saving the body”………but what is his stance?…..did I miss something?

Sally Wickland
Sally Wickland
5 months ago
Reply to  Rebecca Davis

Thank you, Rebecca, I did in fact miss the link you posted. I listened to only some of it.

One of the many problematic ideas Street presented, which you also pointed out, is his erroneous comparison of David and his afflictions to an abusive marriage relationship, and also his comparison of Joseph’s abuse by his brothers, along with a twisted interpretation of 1 Peter, the theme of which is suffering for “doing well”.

Suffering for doing well, is to experience unjust suffering for living out one’s relationship with Christ, no matter who or what may threaten that relationship, and doing so in fear of God, rather than fear of man and what he might do. This is how a Believer is to “place” themselves (hypotasso) in all of their earthly relationships including marriage. This was the example of Christ. He stood His ground, never giving in to men and their whims, but went all the way to the cross and death in testimony to who God is.

Street seems to think that other than suffering for doing wrong, ANY “unjust suffering”, (as in an abusive marriage) pleases God. But 1 Peter teaches that it is suffering for “Christ” and “His Righteousness” that pleases God……big difference! Would Street think that it was a mistake for Paul to use the Roman Citizenship Card to evade the physical abuse of scourging, Acts 22:25? Paul didn’t think so.

Enduring physical abuse by a husband or anyone else is NOT suffering for Christ, whereas a martyr, like Stephen in Acts 7, certainly does depict “unjust suffering” for Christ. Like Christ, Stephen never backed down from speaking the Truth, and went to his death for it.

I have no idea what this man has said in the entirety of his “lectures”, but I doubt he’s lecturing husbands about God’s disgust at the treacherous treatment of wives by their husbands in the book of Malachi. Or how Jesus called out men for their hard-heartedness toward women. Or how God intervened in the life of Abigail who was married to a “fool”, Nabal, a son of Belial, whom God struck down dead before he could harm her. Abigail is a good example of a wife who “put” herself (hypotasso) in relationship to her husband, not in fear of him, but in fear of God. This dedication enabled her to do the right thing, even going against her evil husband when she lent a helping hand to David and his men. Sarah too, finally learned to “do well” and stand up to Abraham and his misplaced intentions to violate God’s will for Isaac the Son of Promise, Gen 21:12. Like most, Street doesn’t understand what Peter is saying about wives, let alone the word “hypotasso”, and therefore grossly misinterprets 1 Peter 3.

I can only imagine the amount of damage and destruction done in the lives and marriages of people who buy into this kind of stuff, taught by those who, in spite of having a degree after their name, have no true understanding of what the Bible really teaches about marriage and women….putting darkness for light.

Sally Wickland
Sally Wickland
5 months ago
Reply to  Rebecca Davis

God bless you for the work you do, Rebecca.

Christina
Christina
5 months ago
Reply to  Sally Wickland

Hello, I am wondering what you are interpreting hypotasso as. I have been researching it for a few months now. I am really leaning towards thinking that we as English Bible readers may misunderstand its complete meaning. I am wondering if it’s more of an opposite of resistance and somehow accomplishes unity.

BEV STERK
BEV STERK
5 months ago
Reply to  Christina

Here is something I came across for you to consider: that there is a MILITARY and NON MILITARY context for the Greek hupotasso…

Here’s a Greek Lexicon stmt/link: A Greek military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader”. In non-military use, it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”.

https://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/hupotasso.html

where I’ve landed at this point is it is a cooperative & collaborative working together, sharing burdens & responsibilities… It’s the 50+ “one another” commands of the NT…

Noemi Kalath
Noemi Kalath
5 months ago

Just how low of a view of marriage they’d have to have to make the correlation that abuse is a lot like being imprisoned and persecuted by unbelievers but they don’t have a problem with that happening in marriage?

The secular enemies of Christ are not called to love the Church, but a husband is called to love his wife AS CHRIST LOVES THE CHURCH. So they see that the husband is in fact acting with hatred like an enemy to the wife he’s supposed to love but that’s not the issue here apparently. The issue here is that she wants to escape the hatred of the man who’s supposed to love her. WOW. I consider such a distortion of marriage to be demonic.

Dana Lange
Dana Lange
5 months ago

Rebecca, I thank God for voices like yours, who consider His character above all when searching the Scriptures. Thank you for shining light on such spiritual abuse and oppression. May captives be set free to embrace true freedom in Christ and His Gospel. Much love to you.

Amy Bechtel Kimball
5 months ago

Sick sick sick.

Pat Massi
Pat Massi
5 months ago

I didn’t know that the Jay E. Adams method was considered credible by Biblical counselors in this day and age. Mr. Street is living in his own planet, and shame on John McArthur for tolerating such a person.

Robert Simpson
Robert Simpson
5 months ago
Reply to  Pat Massi

And shame on the millions who not only tolerate but revere John MacArthur.

Andy
Andy
5 months ago

The irony is that the same guys shoving this abuse on women also unabashedly support law enforcement, whose job it is to protect the us and prevent us from having our bodies destroyed by abusive criminals. They also support the 2nd amendment so we can defend ourselves! But they have a special abuse free-for-all carved out for the physically weaker gender to be abused by the physically stronger gender. Makes me question how much they believe humans are made in God’s image.

HealingInHim
HealingInHim
5 months ago

Thank you for posting, Rebecca. I’ve also appreciated your comments and interviews with Julie Roys.
God bless you.

Belinda Colyer
5 months ago

I have listened to JMac’s teaching for years and have been shaped by them. The anti psychology position is so strong that I believed too that it was evil. I was a new Christian when I found them online and believed what they said. The ‘don’t worry about your physical body’ teaching meant that I did not care for my physical body and now in my middle years I am paying a price for that. Since then CCEF has corrected some of that graceless framework for me. And last year I started doing a diploma of counselling (not biblical, more intergrationist). And I have been astounded at how much it is about doing good and helping your neighbours and caring about people. It is not anti- biblical and God hating at all). It demonstrates how to love your neighbour.
These last two years, reading your books and other authors like Diane Langberg, doing my studies and CCEF has done the painful process of deconstructing those errors I believed. I cannot tell you how much grief and shame accompanied this journey. The people in his church or following his teaching on psychology and matters related to suffering genuinely believe they are following God. Be kind to them. Showing them the truth might help them come to a better understanding too.
(Not saying you are not kind to people. It is that those who trust his teaching identify with him and they feel the words aimed at JMac as against them. Focus on the teaching that is wrong. Sometimes we who read and comment can be scathing against people who believed error – as if it was easy to know the truth. Yes, the teacher of error is accountable. But those who learned from them did not always know they were hearing something that is wrong.

Heidi Strater
Heidi Strater
5 months ago

As a therapist and a Christian NOT a Christian therapist I am disgusted. These men are strictly legalist. The problem is it is there own law not Gods that they follow . They are so out of touch with reality and I thought the same thing you did before I read the statement . Would he stay in a locked house and let someone abuse him ? No way ! I’m sure in that situation he would rationalize that he was David looking to kill Goliath

Sydney Millage
5 months ago

Thank you for this, Rebecca. I was unaware of this recent situation when I wrote about “Headship” on my Sanctuary blog (https:sydneymillage.com)

The thing that gets me is the underlying assumption that men are Jesus for their wives; that as the “head,” men are not to be questioned, corrected, or held accountable by their wives–who have the Spirit and Person of Christ–or anyone else as it relates to their home, marriage, or personal lives.

No one else takes the place of Jesus. Husbands aren’t intended to take His place. It would be great if they reflected Him and changed in Christlikeness, but to assume that a spoken commitment and certificate provide the privileges of headship without responsibility is unbiblical. Using Scripture and power to the benefit of one’s self at the cost of others is spiritual abuse. Using words, actions, power and position to one’s benefit at the cost of others is wrong. Unfortunately, it is a pattern that is far too common both inside and outside the church.

William Gilman
William Gilman
5 months ago

She is misrepresenting what street is saying.
And given that she is quite intelligent, I can only assume it’s intentional.

Street is not saying NOT to save the body.
He is not saying a victim should NOT be protected or escape.
He is saying that should not be THE ONLY goal.
He is saying that restoration of the family should still be on the table.
And certainly even state agencies that remove children from abusive parents have a goal of restoring the family when possible .

Rebecca SEEMS to be operating from a position of belief that street doesn’t care about the safety of the victims.
FALSE.

There are, sometimes, reasons behind abuse that can be changed and improved — addiction, mental illness, etc.

So Street is simply saying that restoring and preserving a family matters as a goal.

And biblical ?

You might recall that David NEVER wrote off Saul or Absalom while he was escaping .
David ALWAYS wanted to restore his relationship with his King and with his estranged son.

So yes, it’s biblical and loving to want to restore families .
Preserve the Body AND preserve the relationship when possible.

Carolynn Tsabai
Carolynn Tsabai
5 months ago
Reply to  William Gilman

I think you are being far too generous to him. First, Street does say an abused wife can leave, but says it’s wrong for her to do so “just to get out of the trouble.” (This was discussed in the most recent episode of Julie Roys’ podcast). The caveat renders the apparent concession to safety basically meaningless. After all, who could honestly say, if they are in an abusive relationship, that they don’t feel a compelling desire for the trouble to end? What constitutes an acceptable reason? Who is to judge? Coupled with the warnings against involving “secular people” unless the victim’s life is threatened, Street sets the bar absurdly high for victims to seek safety.

Two, Street’s remarks about the victim’s responsibility towards the abuser, separation, and DV shelters strongly imply that an abused wife can either seek her own safety or pursue restoration of the relationship, but not both. This makes no sense. Restoration requires first and foremost that the abuser repent. If they do (which is all too rare and probably shouldn’t be planned on), they will face the devastation they have caused and accept the consequences of their behavior. One of those consequences may well be that their victim doesn’t feel safe remaining under the same roof with them for a time. If they can’t respect that, and the relationship ends as a result, in what sense were they actually repentant?

Allison P
Allison P
5 months ago

This whole situation is hitting so many places of my own spiritual abuse which taught me that powerlessness and passivity were holy. To take action to make a change was discontentment, and it ran the risk of sinning by not waiting on God to save me. If he wanted my circumstances to change, he would change them. Anger, all anger, was a sin in my world, not a right response to being sinned against. Numbing that anger has led to rage that keeps bubbling to the surface. I have been working to untwist these lies for years now. When I read the ways these false teachers twist truth and create a god in their own hard-hearted, abusive image, I am challenged anew to seek God’s true heart. It is a fight, but it is worth the work of finally seeing the One True God.

One note of distinction I would like to make on the abused-wife-as-missionary subject: A missionary is in a place for the sake of spreading the gospel of Christ. They are specifically being targeted for that work. An abused wife submitting to abuse is suffering for the sake of evil, not the gospel. The missionary is not in a place of submission to the persecutor. They are not in relationship with the abuser. There is no similarity. That similarity is only being drawn to create shame and condemnation for anyone unwilling to bow to the false image. God is exposing this false image for what it is.

Ms. Davis, thank you so much for your work to untwist Scripture. And in sharing these fabulous examples in which God’s people have bravely gotten themselves out of terrible situations without shame. We need the reminders.

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[…] of Biblical counseling came to light and are making the rounds of various blogs, such as here and here. To summarize, Dr. John Street claims that a Christian wife married to an abusive, unbelieving […]

MK Stone
MK Stone
5 months ago

In Matthew 24, starting at verse 15, Jesus warned his disciples of the persecution and “desolation” that was to come and instructed them to flee to the mountains when they saw the signs. That was fulfilled in AD 70 during the Roman seige of Jerusalem. Christians, having this warning, did flee the city and survived. The apostle Paul was let down in a basket at night to flee persecution so he could continue his missionary ministry. Wonder how John Street views these Scriptures in light of nouthetic counseling?

Lila
Lila
5 months ago

I could never stand up against these big guys but…

It’s too bad that they reject the integrationist view, I guess they call it. “Love is a Choice” (by Minirth and Meier) was so helpful for me, as well as “Living from the Heart Jesus gave you,” and a few others. Because that’s the view that actually helps people find healing, rather than just stuffing it all back down.

GracePimm
GracePimm
5 months ago

On seeing the short clip yesterday morning, I sought out the whole lecture, easily accessible on You Tube, Lecture 3 Advanced Biblical counselling. I listened to the whole 1 hour and 40 min, because I think that is the prudent thing to do under the circumstances. A small segment can be contextually out. Well I went through a varied range of emotional responses in the listening. He is adamant that a woman who is getting beaten should flee to safety, saying that they have secret safe houses that abused women and children can find refuge in. Quote” It is not Godly to suffer that sort of abuse, it is foolishness by Biblical standards “No virtue in suffering for sufferings sake.” He then quotes Proverbs 22:3 and Proverbs 27:12,. The problem is, is they consider that a short term solution. There are two primary Goals in this “111 Distress and the Goal. B, What does the Bible say is the Goal. 1;The Goal in Biblical counselling is to be God’s kind-of-person even in the midst of trial. 2;The goal in Biblical counselling is to seek to glorify God and to win the abuser over to righteousness. He repeated the second goal, which I found interesting because it put the focus on the abuser. He says, Quote, “God has provided a twofold safety net. 1 is the the church. A church that practices church discipline is the best friend a person can have in a Christian home. So the church should be a refuge of protection much the same way as the cities of refuge in the Old Testament.” He says the next place of refuge is the laws of protection under civil government if those are needed. There is a lot to unpack and there is, in my opinion, much that is contradictory. It gave me a huge insight into what actually happened in counselling with the case of Eileen and David Gray. The end Goal was not the safety of Eileen and her children, though that was a primary short term consideration. The principle goal was to get David Gray to repent and then come into righteousness so that the marriage could be restored, even though their first goal in Biblical counselling was for Eileen “to be God’s kind of person even in the midst of trial.”-and they seemed to want to determine how long that trial would be.—- Then they took it upon themselves to determine when she was no longer “God’s kind of person.” as the letter from Cary Hardy attests to. It is a very sick and dangerous unbiblical system of belief and practice as far as I am concerned. Hearing some of the things he shared in this lecture hurt actually.

Hope
Hope
5 months ago

I love your closing sentence! I say some version of this to my college student daughter every so often. Thank you for writing this article. The fact that it needs to be written, remembered, quoted, and promoted is a sobering testimony to the state of the Christian church and teachings in America today. Ugh.

I do not read or listen to these people, so I wonder how these sorts of pastors and church leaders would explain or deal simply with Titus 3:10-11? Will they negate it? Twist it to mean something that it doesn’t?
Titus 3:10-11
10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him,
11  knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

If an abuser isn’t divisive, I don’t know who is! These abusive sorts cause all manner of confusion in their victim(s), they divide that person’s own mind and heart, along with dividing the relationship. Scripture right here claims that these sorts are warped and sinful!

Leslie Vernick, who in my opinion gives highly mixed (confusing) messages, quoted something very helpful: “Oswald Chambers writes: ‘To choose to suffer means there is something wrong; to choose God’s will even if it means suffering is a very different thing. No healthy saint ever chooses suffering; he chooses God’s will, as Jesus did, whether it means suffering or not.’” http://www.aacc.net/2013/10/14/is-emotional-abuse-ever-grounds-for-biblical-separation/

I agree with others who use Jesus as their example. Just as Jesus hid, ran, and quietly slipped away from those who hunted Him, just as He escaped into the wilderness, so should every abuse victim who is able. Any abuse victim that has the strength, need, desire, and ability to go – should go. Even if they have none of these things, they can still go. Jesus showed us the way.
Thank you again for this and all else that you write and do.

Irena
Irena
5 months ago

Thank you very much for this accurate analysis. What stands out for me the most and what I was really looking for is the word “hard-hearted’. Case closed! So many crimes have been done in the name of Christ during the the centuries. This one is one of them. Thank you so much once again for enlightening the public. I honestly thought (and still somehow do…) that it was me who was at fault… Thank you!

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